Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Devil Has Many Voices

You've heard from God.  You know it.  You're convinced.  You've found a promise in Scripture that relates to you right where you are.  Or maybe that word came in your quiet time with the Lord.  Perhaps, it came through the words of a friend or minister.  Regardless, something in you came alive.  Hope was renewed.  You were strengthened to get up and go another round.  Then....

There's always a then.  Most of the time it blindsides us.  We fail to see it coming and "boom" there it is, from out of nowhere.  A voice that opposes everything that God just spoke to you.  Like a right hook from a heavy weight boxer it causes us to stagger and stumble.  We quickly try to remind ourselves of what God has just spoken to us, but this voice of the enemy is unloading like a machine gun that has an endless supply of ammo.  Over and over and over this voice screams its unrelenting lifeless jargon in an attempt to rob us of every ounce of hope.

The enemy's voice takes a lot of different shapes and comes at us from all kinds of angles.  In the Garden of Eden, it came through a serpent.  With Joseph it came through his brothers who sought to destroy him.  With Moses, it came from his own feelings of inadequacy.  With David, it came from an insecure king who sought to kill him.  With Job, it came through his wife and friends.  With Jesus, there was a time it came through his friend Peter.  The truth is the enemy has many voices.  Regardless of what shape it takes, it has one goal and that is to cause us to doubt what God has said.

We should not think it odd when the enemy's voice speaks.  Jesus explained to us, that immediately after the Word is sown into our hearts, the enemy comes to steal it (Matthew 13).  Rather than being blindsided, we would do well to heed the words of Jesus.  The right hook is coming!  Look for it! Expect it!  Be ready to duck, block, and then hit back.  I think it's interesting that when Jesus was tempted by the enemy in the wilderness that following his attempt to trip up Jesus, Scripture tells us that he backed off and waited for a "more opportune time."  The enemy picks his moments.  He waits and when he sees the opportunity to strike, he unleashes his fury.  Be ready for it!

This past spring I planted a garden.  I worked hard to prepare two raised beds.  I planted squash, strawberries, green beans, tomatoes, black beans, and several other things.  The first thing to produce fruit was my strawberry plants.  They had strawberries all over them.  And just as they started to turn red something happened.  I went out one day and the same plants that had fruit on them the day before were completely barren.  As I looked around I noticed that birds had eaten my strawberries.  Every last one of them!  In order to get strawberries, I was going to have to do something to keep the enemy at bay.  So, I put up bird netting and ever since the birds have been denied access.  Chalk up a victory for me! I've learned a lot from my little gardening experience.  There are critters that want to damage everything I plant.  If you think that simply planting a seed is all there is to insuring that eventually you'll have fruit, you are completely mistaken.  There are bugs, squirrels, birds, racoons, and many other critters that have to be kept away from the plants in order to see a harvest.

So it is with the Word of God.  If you think that simply hearing the Word of God guarantees a harvest, you'll probably never see it.  The Word of God has a real enemy. While the Word of God is designed to produce fruit in our lives, the enemy has a strategy to thwart that process.  If he can't rip the seed out, then he'll show up at another opportune time to attempt his abortion. Expect him. Once, I saw that birds had stolen my strawberries, I didn't sit back and think it wouldn't happen again.  I expected it.  I prepared for it.  I took the necessary steps to make sure that the "enemy" to my strawberries would never destroy that fruit again.  In the same way, we must understand that each and every time the Word of God  takes root in our heart, there is an enemy lurking in the shadows waiting for the right moment to destroy it.  He'll come speaking words of doubt and unbelief and he'll use any voice he can to spew his garbage.  He'll use our friends and family.  He'll use our own internal voices tainted with wounds from the past.  He'll use our fears of rejection or our own insecurities to promote his deceitful agenda.  He'll leave us hopeless, frustrated, and most importantly doubting the very thing that just hours ago we were so confident that God clearly spoke to us.  

When you read the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the biggest temptation they faced was not to eat the fruit.  It was to doubt the Word of God and believe another.  Eating the forbidden fruit was just the evidence that they had given into that temptation to doubt what God had said.  We face that temptation every single time God speaks to us.  Get ready for it.  Prepare yourself.  The devil has many voices and he'll be speaking to you soon. "Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil, goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). When he throws his right hook, have your counter punch ready and declaw the sucker!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jesus Refused To Feed The Hungry

Jesus refused to feed the hungry.  I know what you're thinking, the Bible says he fed 5,000 on one occasion and 4,000 on another.  You are exactly right, there were times when he did feed the hungry.  However, believe it or not there was an occasion where Jesus refused to feed the hungry.  Kind of messes up our view of a benevolent, compassionate man who went around just taking care of the poor and needy among humanity.  Now, before you start to post some negative comments, hear me out.  I'm not saying we shouldn't help those among us who have needs.  However, I think if we are going to do it in the name of Jesus, perhaps we should first know Him and understand what He did and why He did it.  Otherwise in our attempts to truly help people we may actually be hindering them.   

After feeding the multitude one day, Jesus leaves and goes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  A large number of those that He fed the previous day followed Him. They showed up with the expectation that once again Jesus would miraculously feed them all.  However, they were confronted with the harsh reality that the soup kitchen was closed.  No, it wasn't because of a lack of funds or food donations. Jesus refused to feed them because loving them demanded something more than filling their bellies. Think about it for a moment.  How many times do we throw money at a problem and just want it to go away?  It's the American way.  We donate here or there and feel good about ourselves and pat ourselves on the back for our generosity.  We helped feed a homeless person or we gave them a blanket or a pair of socks.  It certainly makes it easier to look in the mirror each morning knowing that we've done our part to help the less fortunate among us. 

Several years ago, I was doing some ministry in the inner city of LA.  We were handing out sandwiches to the homeless.  I remember so well getting off the bus and seeing a lady sitting on the sidewalk.  Starting up a conversation with her I said, "How are you doing today?"  She responded, "How the #@*!# does it look like I'm doing? I'm homeless!"  (Note to self: never open a conversation with a homeless person with that question).  My response?  "Want a peanut butter sandwich?"  She took two.  I know we were only suppose to give one to each person, but I was thinking two sure made me feel better after our exchange.  The truth is that handing her a sandwich was easy. It made me feel good about myself for helping her.  Plus, it sure did away with the awkwardness caused by my pathetic attempt at making small talk.  It's been more than a decade and I've never seen that lady since.  I came home to the comforts of my suburban life and took up life where I left off.  I had done my "christian duty" of loving the least of these.  At least that was what I had tried to convince myself.

Really, I handed someone a peanut butter sandwich and I can call that loving someone?  Actually, I think you can, but I know well that with that woman that peanut butter sandwich offered me an out.  It afforded me a moment to move on to the next person.  I fed her belly that day, but I did nothing that could be truly equated to loving her.  Jesus fed the multitude one day, but when they came back for more food the next day he refused to feed them.  Filling their bellies wasn't the real issue with them and He knew it.  Jesus went to the root, and ran them all off.  He had a conversation with them that was uncomfortable but it went much deeper than the surface issues in their life.  The woman I met that day was hungry but that wasn't why she was homeless.  The "why" though would take much more from me than a nice greeting and a peanut butter sandwich.  The "why" might have meant that I take a seat on the curb next to her in spite of how she smelled, how she looked, or how many walls she had built up around her.  She responded to me that day in the way she did, not because she was hungry.  Sure, she got her belly filled but once I left, she was still bitter, angry at the world, and still homeless. While loving her didn't require me to find her a new home to live in, certainly it required more of me than a peanut butter sandwich. 

For Jesus, loving the multitude that day wasn't feeding their bellies, it was looking beyond their growling stomachs and determining to offer them more than some fish and bread.  I don't want to belittle the idea of meeting the needs of the less fortunate among us but it is imperative for us to look beyond the surface.  Otherwise, in our attempts to love people we'll fail to truly love them.  Do we really want to pat ourselves on the back when we've done what really amounts to putting a Band-aid on a severed artery?  It's true that the hungry need food but if we only focus on filling the natural belly while ignoring what is spiritual and of eternal significance we've missed the point.  Jesus was much less interested in meeting the physical needs of the crowd that day and more interested in meeting their real needs.

I think we struggle with this area because meeting real needs means we run the risk of being rejected.  We want people to love us, not reject us.  Offering a hungry person food increases our chances that hungry people will love us.  Unfortunately, Jesus doesn't instruct us to go into the world and try desperately to get people of love and accept us.  On the contrary, He instructs us to love people. However, loving people is much more difficult than getting people to love us.  Loving people requires much more than feeding a belly.  That part is easy.  Feeding them takes a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread.  There's not one among us who can't pull that off.  Truly loving them though might mean some stink is rubbed off on us. It might require a few more minutes of our time.  It will require us to step way out of our comfort zone.  It will require us to look beyond the surface issues in their life and determine to dive into the deep end with them.  It will require us to speak the truth while running the risk at being rejected by them. Simply put, we have to be more focused on loving people than being loved by them.

In loving people, let's determine to follow Jesus' model.  It's ok and completely appropriate to feed their bellies.  At the same time, let's not pretend that we've done our job of truly loving them until we as the church go beyond what the government or some humanitarian organization can do.  The mandate of the church is not to simply become an agent of humanitarian aid.  Our call is a much higher call.  We are to love humanity beyond meeting a their basic needs. While feeding their bellies let's make sure we are doing it with eternity in mind.  What a tragedy it would be for us to offer someone some bread to feed their hunger while neglecting to offer them the Bread of Life to feed their true hunger.  Jesus closed the soup kitchen for a day, but He never closes the kitchen that offers mankind food to feed his spiritual hunger.  In all we do, let's make sure we are really feeding the hungry what they truly need.